Wyatt's Law: SA mother continues push to expand rights for parents of deceased children

Bill passed by state Senate and House last month

SAN ANTONIO – Lara McDaniel was not allowed to say a final goodbye to her 7-year-old son, Wyatt.

More than four years after the boy was killed when a large sand pile collapsed on him while he played on it with his younger brother, McDaniel continues her fight to expand rights for parents of other deceased children.

"I'll be hell bent if another family is going to go through this," said McDaniel.

Bills passed by the Texas Senate and Texas House of Representatives last month will allow parents to view the body of a deceased child before an autopsy is performed, unless a law enforcement agency has probable cause to prevent it.

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Some members of the law enforcement community at first opposed the bill, over concerns about preserving evidence. However, the current version is widely supported and has been expanded to include children whose deaths take place outside hospitals.

The language from both bills will have to be joined before a final version can go to Gov. Greg Abbott for a signature.

"I think that we've got a bill here just that recognizes that parents should have the ability to go in and view the body and spend some time with it," state Rep. Lyle Larson said in an interview earlier this year.

Larson and state Sen. Donna Campbell filed similar bills before the start of the current legislative session in order to ensure they would be heard in time.

"When you hear Lara McDaniel's story, it's really two tragedies. The loss of life of your child compounded by the bureaucratic nightmare of what she had to go through," said Campbell.

McDaniel said she and her husband were treated like criminals after Wyatt's death, since the Bexar County Sheriff's Office opened an investigation into how he died.

"If you weren't comfortable with us touching him or whatever, why didn't you have us supervised to go in there? Why didn't you let me stand in the doorway to see with my own eyes? Why did you sneak him out of the hospital after lying to me?" said McDaniel, recalling what happened after Wyatt was airlifted to University Hospital in late January 2013.

McDaniel said she and her husband returned home after Wyatt's death only to have investigators with BCSO and Child Protective Services show up.

CPS placed the couple on a "safety plan" and said their remaining two children would be taken away unless another adult could provide around-the-clock supervision.

"We had to move from grieving for Wyatt and burying him and all of those things. My focus immediately focused from that to preserving my family that was left. I was petrified," said McDaniel.

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CPS closed its investigation of the couple four months later with no finding of wrongdoing.

McDaniel said at no point during the investigation did CPS tell her what she and her husband were being investigated about.

"The folks with protective services got involved. They felt like there were some inappropriate actions, which they wrongfully assumed," said Larson.


About the Author:

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined KSAT Investigates in September 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat and on the Six O'Clock News. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.